Lucy's Reviews > The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
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** spoiler alert ** Three stars. I know, I'm surprised too.

I expected a few things when I borrowed this book from a friend. 1. I wouldn't like it at all because I thus far have not been a fan of Maggie Stiefvater's world building. 2. It was a dystopian of some sort. 3. The race would be long, grueling, and somehow a significant portion of the book. Well, the world building was still on the half-hearted side, but I didn't find it as flimsy as the Mercy Falls (view spoiler). This book is not a dystopian, just a story about life on an island which is a notoriously difficult life. Finally, the race lasts about five minutes and takes up a dozen or so pages.

World Building: I'm still not entirely certain what's going on with the world building in this book. My take on it is that this is set at some point in the early 20th century in an alternate reality. There's talk of women's suffrage, although it could be on an even time line with us and they just took a bit longer to get around to it, but then again bowler hats run rampant? Whatever, I just wish I had been able to form a distinct opinion on this stuff instead of constantly trying to figure it out. If you can clarify, please do so in the comments. I might've missed something and I don't have the inclination to re-read.

Pacing: Once again pacing is a huge issue for the author. The characters sort of wander around for half the book, circling each other and other events. It lags a lot. There's some repetition with the scenes that was unnecessary and strange. The riders sign up, either without the name of a mount or with a tentatively named one that they are allowed to change for a little while. They later reach a point where they have to vow to ride the horse and say a name with no mind changing. These two scenes could have been condensed into one because neither seems to really force a rider to ride. After the vows are made the male lead, Sean, threatens not to ride at all. There seem to be no consequences for this or obligation to ride despite the blood oaths they make. I guess it's just to say the riders can't suddenly swap horses, which seems like too many scenes and too many words for one fact.

Characters: I liked both Sean and Puck -- Kate. I enjoyed their more tentative and realistic romance. It was slow building, but had a solid foundation. No insta-love here for those of you who are tired of that so I can recommend on that front. They are both aware of the people watching them and speculating about every tiny step they take toward one another. I was a little amused that the character to put it in the crassest terms was an American. I don't know why seeing as it's a cliche. I suppose I liked the character.

Disappearing Parents: The author fell into this troupe again. Three out of four parents in this situation were eaten by the vicious water horses. (The fourth was Sean's mom, who ran off to the mainland.) Kate also sheds an older brother by the end of the story to leave her as a fully realized adult at least by YA standards. Her position, however, is no better than when she first decided to run the races which I found frustrating. She didn't know they were on the verge of losing the house when she said she'd do the race and they still don't have that much, if any, extra money to provide a cushion. The house she thought was paid off is now really paid off. The only real progress she makes is getting a job at the stables of an off-handedly cruel, callous horse owner.

Water Horses: Sometimes they were slightly scary, but most of the time I felt like I saw the author's hand too much. She really wanted them to be scary instead of stepping back and letting you arrive at the fear on your own. The real threat in the book almost always came from humans and their choices -- from Gabe's choice to abandon his siblings to the rider who doesn't really want to win the race so much as hurt Sean as much as possible. This brings me to the...

Race: I expected a lot more. Another reviewer said it would be like reading the Hunger Games only to find out that the games only lasted twelve pages. She's damn right and you should go like her review for putting it so neatly while I dance around trying to figure out a better way to phrase it.

The author's strong suit is descriptive writing. She doesn't have a big knack for pacing or plot and she doesn't seem to care about fixing these problems with her writing.** She takes pride (I guess?) in the fact that she's willing to throw all this stuff out the window to make sure the mood she wants is experienced by the reader, but as my friend, rameau, put it: a good author would be able to pull these things together without throwing away everything else. You can't cook anything worthwhile with half the ingredients and a heavy hand on the salt. You can't write anything worth five stars unless you bring all the parts of a good story to the writing. Instead of fixing plot holes Stiefvater sort of sloppily fills them in with whatever garbage she can find.

For example, despite living on the island for her entire life Puck knows next to nothing about the Scoprio Races. I call bullshit. It's like living on a fishing island and knowing nothing about fish. Even if your father was the town doctor with a moral objection to overfishing you'd encounter so much fish that you'd know exactly what sort of fish they caught around the island and at what time of year they did it. You'd probably also know how to clean a fish from a friend and would've dipped your pole in the water once or twice on the sly.

For some reason Stiefvater wanted Puck to be new to it all while still having island history, this was probably for the benefit of introducing the audience to certain concepts. In essense, she wanted the reader to feel naturally alligned with Puck, but the cost was my ability to believe in both the island and the girl. It was lazily done in my opinion and led to weird gaps in what should've been basic knowledge for Puck.

Anyway, three stars. I don't expect Stiefvater to ever really do that much better since she's more thank okay with writing with only half the tools necessary for a good book.

**Quote reference: "Other writers might have different priorities, but for me, the chief goal of my novels is not plot or premise or pacing, but to evoke a certain feeling. I will sacrifice most anything in order to change someone's mood in a certain way. I can't do that without careful navigation of metaphor and character development." -- Maggie Stiefvater on her blog, which I found in Maja's positive review of this book (you should check that out too).
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Reading Progress

11/05/2011 page 45
11.0% "Thus far I do not buy Puck's lack of knowledge about the event that provides most of the income and fame for the island. I can believe her parents didn't support it, but I can't believe she hasn't gleaned more information from everywhere else. This reads like the author trying to figure out the world building as she writes rather than someone who would genuinely be outside enough to be confused."
11/06/2011 page 189
47.0% "I feel like the two separate scenes with Puck committing to the race are a waste. The two scenes don't even work like they're in the same sort of book. One is registering and paying a fee to join the race, the money being the committment for poor broke Puck. The other scene is a ritualistic spilling of some blood from each rider. :| Was it there just so someone could protest Puck's vagina?"
11/06/2011 page 210
52.0% "I don't buy Puck not knowing, at least enough to recognize on the street, her brother's friend's family. This island is supposed to be a small place and she grew up there, went to school there. She'd know the guy's siblings from school. Even if the place was somehow big enough for two schools they supposedly live near each other. Author has no concept of small town or island life."
11/07/2011 page 307
76.0% "I believe the relationship in this book a lot more than I believed the relationship in Shiver. Perhaps because it's built upon mutual interests and strained by those same joining facts. It hasn't become the all consuming love fest and I hope it doesn't because doing that would really cheapen what has been built."
11/07/2011 page 328
81.0% "The race lasts five minutes?! I thought it would be multiple laps around the island or something like that. I thought it was a long race? It's a freaking sprint!?" 5 comments
02/23/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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Wendy Darling I'm pretty sure you're going to dislike this, Lucy.

Lucy It's not awful, but it's a bit slow and the author's done a fair bit of plotting for her own convenience. If it had gone faster she might not have tangled herself up.

Lyndsey Bahahaha! *facepalm* I read this sentence... "Another reviewer said it would be like reading the Hunger Games only to find out that the games only lasted twelve pages."... and thought, "Hey, that's what I was sayin, I wonder what other reviewer besides me said that." So I clicked on the link and it WAS me. Well, color me happy! (view spoiler)

Anyways.. I completely agree with your review, except that I personally never grew to like either of the main characters. They were likable enough, but by the time I could have started to become invested, I was too bored to care.

Lucy It was a great way of putting it! I should've poked you to let you know I quoted you.

I found them more likable than either Grace or Sam, but I suppose if my expectations hadn't been low ball to begin with then I probably would've found it more draggy than I did. I expected it to go very slow once I saw the author's name.

Lyndsey You can poke me anytime, Lucy! XD

And I've never really cared for any of Maggie's characters, as of yet, but I think Shiver would make a decent movie. Scorpio Races would have been much better if it were written more like a zombie book. Carnage, carnage, carnage. I mean, why have flesh-eating horses if you aren't going to have them eating people left and right?

Lucy Agreed. I was kind of aghast that the race was a sprint. I was expecting some type of long endurance race. You know like sled races that last days in Alaska? Like that. Someone needs to write about a long, hardcore race where people are trying to kill you the whole way.

Kogiopsis Lucy wrote: "Agreed. I was kind of aghast that the race was a sprint. I was expecting some type of long endurance race. You know like sled races that last days in Alaska? Like that. Someone needs to write about..."

Yes, please.
(Come to think of it, that's kind of what I expected from this too. Damn that vague teaser summary.)

Lyndsey I know! That's what I was expecting. Like some Hildalgo shit or something, but with ZOMBIE HORSES!! That would have been amaaaaaazing. I think that's what was the most disappointing: that it could have been sooo good.

Susan Women won the right to vote in 1918 in Ireland, but didn't gain full voting rights until 1928, so I'm guessing the book is written to take place somewhere between those dates, although I'm leaning towards the earlier side. I found I didn't really mind the lack of preciseness on that front because the island was so secluded in its own little way that it's likely they wouldn't change too much depending on the fad of the decade.

The description of the book definitely leads a potential reader to think that the race will be a significant part of it, I agree with you. Threw me off when I realized that wasn't the crux of the story.

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